11th August 2023
Although choosing to stay quiet at school because of his stammer, drama class helped Kingsley Pilgrim express himself. Here he tells us about becoming an actor, stand-up comedian and author.
I have always stammered, I know that now. As a 4-year-old at home it wasn't an issue. It wasn't until I went on a school trip to the Natural History Museum that it became apparent to me.
I must have been around 6 or 7. At the museum gift shop I wanted to buy a toy dinosaur. It was an Ankylosaurus, hanging on a shelf behind the cashier. There was a queue and as I waited for my turn, I knew I had to get my words right. By the time I got to the front, my voice was completely stuck. The woman behind the till asked me what I wanted, and nothing was coming out of my mouth. "Come on, spit it out," she said, which is the worst thing you can say to anyone with a stammer. I just pointed at the dinosaur and instead the lady gave me a bookmark which was hanging to the side of it. I paid for it and headed back to the coach. On the way home, everyone else was playing with their toy dinosaurs and all I had was a bookmark.
When I catch up with my former classmates and ask them about my stammer, they didn't know I had one.
At school I could never read aloud as I would get stuck. The teacher would finish words off for me and I'd get so embarrassed. The class thought I couldn't read. There were questions I knew the answer to but I stayed silent for fear of my classmates laughing. So I went further into my shell, remained quiet and became a daydreamer. When I catch up with my former classmates and ask them about my stammer, they didn't know I had one. They thought the reason I was so quiet was because I read comics and was a nerd; being into Spiderman and Batman wasn't as cool in the late 80s as it is today.
Acting & stand-up comedy
I have always loved the arts; I love watching films and going to the theatre. In drama class at school, I found I didn't stammer; the words simply flowed from my mouth. I couldn't speak on the phone to someone I didn't know but could easily whack out the play Marat/Sade to an audience. It was my comfort zone.
Doing stand up, I get very excited and try to get the jokes out at 100mph. Thankfully it's more of a hit than a miss!
As an adult, I decided to carry on acting and joined my local theatre company. There too, my stammer disappeared. The adrenaline of being on stage kept it at bay. I was then inspired to go to L.A. to attend an acting workshop. Whilst there, I realised I couldn't get work as an actor in the US, so for my final workshop I tried stand-up comedy. The class loved it and said that when I got back to England I should keep it up. And I did.
I did open mic nights sporadically over the next few years around the UK and that was the real and hardest test. Doing theatre, you're usually in a group rehearsing somebody else's words and your fellow actors are your comfort blanket. But with stand-up comedy, it's all you and the hardest thing is getting up on stage. I stammer more when I'm nervous and excited. Doing stand up, I get very excited and try to get the jokes out at 100mph. Thankfully it's more of a hit than a miss! I just have to think ahead, slow down and the words do finally come out.
I basically like trying out new things. I tried acting and comedy, but I needed something else to do. I could have easily taken up gardening, but it had to be something I enjoyed doing! I was still reading comics and have always been intrigued by Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology. So, I came up with the idea of writing about various mythological characters.
My then girlfriend said I wouldn't do it; she said I analyse things too much and it would take ages to write. She did have a point — when it came to my stammer I would always overthink what I was going to say and how I would sound to people. But what she said spurred me on to prove her wrong.
As I've already mentioned, to get past the stammering I usually speak about 100mph. My writing style is pretty much the same. I would type a few hundred words and then stop for a few weeks to catch my writing breath. However, I did get my first book out eventually and another two followed in that series, which are set in another universe. My latest book of short stories, Humberfield, is set here on Earth.
My stammer doesn't define me or control me. Like the characters in Humberfield, we all have our little traits and personalities. I'm keeping mine and if you read the book, you'll see 9 stories with people who have more, much more than a stammer to deal with.
My stammer is a part of me and it won't go away. But in all honesty, I don't want it to. Like John Candy's character says in the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles: "I like me, my friends and family like me because what you see is what you get”.
My stammer and I are like that.
Kingsley's book Humberfield, is available on Amazon.